The Commodores jumped out to a surprising 3-0 start to the season before losing their first SEC game of the year to the South Carolina Gamecocks. Still, Vanderbilt has performed well this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
On the season, Vanderbilt’s defense has ranked in the top 25 nationally in average yards per game (11th), rushing yards per game (25th), and passing yards per game (22nd).
Head coach Nick Saban said his team will not take anything for granted against Vanderbilt, on either side of the ball.
“Vanderbilt is a much more challenging opponent than people may think,” Saban said. “They’re 3-1, and they’ve got one of the best turnover margins in the country and play really well on defense. They’re doing a good job of scoring points on offense with the players that they have and the things they do. It’s going to be very challenging for us in this game.”
Indeed, one aspect of the defense in which the Commodores have dominated is interceptions. They lead the nation, with 14 interceptions through four games, three of which have been returned for touchdowns. They have also forced two fumbles this the season and have a +7 turnover margin on the year, ranking them fifth nationally in the turnover margin.
Saban said despite the challenge the Vanderbilt secondary may provide to quarterback AJ McCarron, he only expects him to play up to his standards and to continue to manage the game.
“I expect him to do what we want him to do to execute our offense, manage our team, take what the defense gives him,” Saban said. “We have all the respect in the world for Vanderbilt, what they’ve done on defense.
“They have a lot of interceptions, and their team has done a really good job of ball hawking, and one of the reasons they’re having success is they have a very positive turnover ratio as a team and their secondary has made a lot of plays for them.”
Still, senior linebacker Courtney Upshaw said he doesn’t think AJ is the kind of quarterback to be intimidated, whether by opposing players or the way their defense has played.
“Oh no, no,” Upshaw said. “No, not AJ. I mean, even when we’re out there, joking, talking noise, he’s talking back…”
Indeed, Upshaw said the team is preparing for Vanderbilt like any other team. He said they’re going to continue to prepare as they always have. He also said the fact that this is homecoming week for Alabama won’t factor in to the way they play.
“To the fans, it’s homecoming,” Upshaw said. “But to us, it’s just another game. We just want to go out and compete. Doesn’t matter who it was, so if it’s homecoming or just a regular game, we’re just ready to play.”